The Element Carbon

The chemical element carbon (C), is found in many different compounds. It is in the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the cosmetics we use, and the gasoline that fuels our cars. Carbon plays a dominant role in the chemistry of life and without carbon we could not exist.

Carbon is a naturally occurring nonmetallic element that is present in the cells of all organisms. Carbon has an atomic number of 6 and an atomic weight of 12. The carbon atom contains six neutrons and six protons and combines with other elements forming a variety of compounds that include carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide.

Carbon makes up about 19 percent of the mass of the human body and is an essential component of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, and nucleic acids. All fossil fuels, coal, petroleum, oil shale, and natural gas, contain carbon as a principal element and combined with hydrogen form a category of hydrocarbons.

Carbon Atom (C)

Figure 4.1 Carbon Atom. (Courtesy of Jeff Dixon)
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